“The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:11-12
I recently read an article about the importance of a quiet mind, and how our phones seem to be taking this experience away. No doubt I first read the article on my phone, which is most likely what you are also doing at this very moment. And why not? We understandably choose to be entertained when we have these amazing devices that can transport us almost anywhere and show us almost anything. Reading our newsfeeds is infinitely more exciting than staring at the floor in the dentist’s waiting room. We would much rather have the mental stimulation.
Before I lose you, this is not a blog post to decry the era of technology or to rail against the evils of the internet in every pocket. Steve Jobs was a genius, and the world is moving forward in amazing new ways because of his brilliance. Instead, this is a call to mindfulness. It is a call to quiet. It is a call to set aside time to be alone with our thoughts and to stay connected with our internal worlds. Since we now have the option to fill every second with some sort of input, we often forget that we can actually choose not to do so, and why that would even be healthy and desirable.
In 2001, John Mayer recorded a song called “3×5″ in which he talked about a man who stopped sending 3″x5” photographs (remember, it’s 2001) to update a friend about his travels. He decided the camera was getting in his way, and he wanted to “see the world through both [his] eyes” rather than through the lens of technology. He went on to tell his friend, “You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes / it brought me back to life,” and, “today I finally overcame / trying to fit the world inside a picture frame… no more 3×5’s.” He clearly felt a deeper connection with the world around him when he wasn’t trying so hard to capture it… to document it… to hold it hostage. Instead, he was able to be fully present to the experience for whatever it became. If you haven’t heard the song, you should Spotify it. I know how that sounds, but whatever. I’m not kidding.
How ironic, though, that we temporarily remove ourselves from our experiences in order to record them, caption them, and post them. And it’s not just taking selfies that pulls us away, it’s our articles and breaking news and notifications and texts and newsfeeds and tweets. They all entertain us, but can also serve to insulate us from the “real life” happening just beyond the screen. We end up missing real life HERE because we’re reading about what’s happening THERE.
You see the tragedy in this, don’t you? Not only can we miss what (or who) is right in front of us, but we are all too often missing out on a whole internal world of private thoughts and feelings that get neglected. It doesn’t have to be this way.
At my church, our pastor invites us into a time of silent prayer during the church service every week. We spend probably about a minute in silence, talking to God, listening for God, or simply grounding ourselves in the faint sounds of the hushed congregation, the warm light from the windows, or the comforting familiarity of the church pew. It strikes me that this may be the only time during some weeks in which we intentionally seek stillness. The only time we go inward. The only time we listen for the still small voice.
Let’s bring that experience back into our everyday lives. Just for a moment, I’d like to encourage you to turn your phone off and unplug. Feel the stillness and let it ground you. Be fully present to your thoughts. Spend time with nature. Take in the world through both your eyes. I swear, it always brings me back to life.
By Matt Thames, M.A., LPC